You may recall my blog post on 7 November - read it here - highlighting a book dedicated solely to the amazing face towers of this previously remote temple complex in northwestern Cambodia. Well, I was very pleased when the publishers, Goto Shoin from Japan, sent me a copy of their book, The Face Towers of Banteay Chmar, to review. For someone like me who has always found immense fascination with the face towers of Cambodia, this is the perfect Christmas present. 150 pages devoted to the enigmatic faces believed to King Jayavarman VII, from Banteay Chhmar, its satellite temples - which I visited in January 2005 - and the even more ruinous temple complex at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay.
For photographer Baku Saito this was an opportunity to complete his project to capture all of the face towers in Cambodia, having previously produced exhibitions and a book for Unesco on the more readily-accessible faces of The Bayon and the other temples at Angkor. In all there are 228 faces at The Bayon and more at the temples of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Ta Som and the Gates of Angkor Thom. These faces began appearing in the latter half of the Bayon style period, after 1200 and are known as 'the smile of Angkor'. The task of capturing the faces at Banteay Chhmar was a tougher assignment, one which Baku has come through with flying colours, with no less than 58 pages of the book housing gorgeous colour plates of the temples and towers, another 40 pages containing black & white shots of each face he encountered (31 in total) as well as plans of each temple site. No effective restoration work has yet taken place at Banteay Chhmar and the book highlights the need for urgent conservation studies to be undertaken, especially as one of the face towers collapsed in 2004. There are now 70 face towers still standing in the whole of the country, though some are in an advanced state of ruin - its time to act now to save these incredible masterpieces of Khmer culture.
The photographs show that the faces at the four satellite temples surrounding the main Banteay Chhmar complex, as well as the face tower at the temple of Prasat Preah Stung in Preah Khan are in considerably better condition than those at the main temple site, and adds further ammunition for the urgent restoration of these priceless gems. The book also contains an essay by Olivier Cunin who looks for evidence of more face towers at the themples, which are no longer standing, but the question of who exactly is represented by the faces is left hanging without any definitive conclusion. This book feeds my fascination for these bewitching temples and for that I thank Baku Saito and Goto Shoin for their foresight in publishing this exceptional record.
A Banteay Chhmar face pictured on my 1st visit to the temple in November 2001.